Friday I wrote an email to Seattle's chief taxi, flat-rate for-hire, limo and TNC/Ride-share regulator, Mister Fred Podesta, telling him it didn't make any sense that all us lease-drivers were still paying for L&I coverage even though the State of Washington ended all mandatory coverage effective July 23, 2015, implementing an "opt-in" clause requiring independent payment. For the moment the problem with this in Seattle and King County, and I am assuming the entire state, is that the State of Washington has failed to coordinate with applicable municipal regulators and the affected driver population. What the folks in Olympia don't realize is that they are requesting a double payment, asking everyone to pay twice. Why would we object to that, given our booming business!?
But the primary reason for their inattention is simple, the State legislature's action this past session having everything to do with political pressure emanating from Uber, and nothing to do whatsoever with the needs and concerns of the taxi industry. With an estimated 5000 Uber drivers in Seattle/King County alone, Uber had no interest in complying with past L&I requirements. When your sole focus is profit, why would you be interested in the well-being of your drivers?
Instead of course you would lobby to change the rules, and that is what happened. That it affects others not involved in their operations is not their concern. Money and money only their priority, something further reflected by Microsoft's recent $100 million dollar Uber investment. Just like Starbucks parallel financial arrangement with Uber rival Lyft, the big financial players know where the action is. And it isn't with a bunch of taxi paupers. Why care about chump-change when millions of dollars reside elsewhere?
Though for us sitting in Seattle, this is all very, very personal. Twice since July 23rd I have paid through my lease for L&I coverage that, officially, is cancelled. So nonsensically, very "Lewis Carroll-like," we are in a governmental dilemma where we are simultaneously being told we must sign up for L&I coverage even though all of us are still paying for L&I coverage they say we no longer have.
The question then is simple and basic and obvious. If we don't have it anymore, then why are we continuing to pay for it? And even today, a colleague advised me not to bring it up, leaving well enough alone because of a dual connection not immediately obvious to the uninitiated. Why understanding his request not to stir the pot, I must take offense when I am personally part of the cooking ingredients. Hey, I don't want to be part of a confusing stew! What to do they think I am, some kind of vegetable?
When L&I coverage was mandated, Seattle upped the lease-cap and meter rates to cover both required sales-tax and L&I costs. The theory now goes that if the now non-existent L&I costs are subtracted from lease rates, a corresponding meter rate reduction must also follow. While that may concern many, let me remind everyone that one of reasons many in the local taxi industry feared an increase in new City taxi licenses is that it would result in a reduction in artificially induced high license evaluations. And guess what all those fools got instead? Two hundred-plus flat-rate for-hire City licenses and 5000-7000 and still counting TNC cars taking a huge percentage of our customer-base.
And what do you think the average license is now worth? Anywhere from 200-250 thousand less than just two years ago. Pretty astounding, along with the City of Seattle's past position of not adding taxi licenses because average response times hadn't deteriorated. All of this is funny but it is not humorous.
Who in their right "taxi mind" would risk buying a Seattle taxi license in this current business climate? Not me, and doubtfully, not anyone else who would willingly pay for a sinking ship. Why move closer to the edge when the folks in Olympia and Seattle have their sweaty hands pushing against your back? If you fall and tumble over into the abyss, you can be sure they won't be catching you once you meet the bottom, the funeral costs all yours.
Mister Carroll, I am confident, would be proud, recognizing in the 21st century what was operational in mid-19th century England---bloated bureaucracies trampling basic citizen rights while kowtowing to local royalty. Charles Dickens, along with America's Mark Twain, also had some commentary upon the situation. Near as I can tell, Father William knows all about it:
"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head---
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"
"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."
"You are old," said the youth, "as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door---
Pray, what is the reason of that?"
"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limps very supple
By the use of this ointment---one shilling the box---
Allow me to sell you a couple?"
"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak---
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"
"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."
"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose---
What made you so awfully clever?"
"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you downstairs."
Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Nonsense perhaps but nonsense wise in the disguise of doggerel telling you a story of what is true, and remains, regardless if it drives you insane! Fun stuff, Carroll's poetry even if what we have in the taxi industry, isn't. On page one of the two sided letter sent to everyone by L&I, it says that if you want to continue your coverage after July 23rd, you should fill out the enclosed form. The only problem is simple, I didn't get one which is classic government incompetence from folks who really don't care about your well-being. Of course they pretend to, will swear upon a stack of Bibles, Torahs, Qur'ans, Tripitakas, Bhagavad-Gitas and Tao-te-Chings that they have your best interests at political heart but the proof, folks is in the the bureaucratic pudding but everyone, please beware because this dessert is curdled, sour to the stomach and poisonous to the mind.
If you are interested on any level contacting L&I and telling them anything you choose, here are a few contacts to assist you on you way. As always, best wishes and good luck, you faithful taxi comrade, "Father Joseph."
firstname.lastname@example.org (Mr.Sacks is current WA ST L&I Director)
Good luck, brothers and sisters because, as it is always said, you are going to need it!